One of the biggest conveniences of using a digital assistant is hands-free operation. Thanks to a recent Alexa app update for Windows 10, Amazon has made that ability possible on Windows 10 systems, allowing users to invoke the digital assistant whether it is running in the background or foreground. It's a 'Look Ma, no hands!' moment.
"Today, Amazon released a new version of the Alexa app for Windows 10 PCs that allows customers to access the experience hands-free on Windows 10 devices,” Amazon stated in an email. "This means you can easily invoke Alexa regardless of whether the app is running in the foreground or background—all you need to do is ask."
This functionality is otherwise known as a wake-word capability. It's similar to saying, "Hey Siri" on iOS devices or "OK Google" on Android phones and tablets. Of course, Alexa has always supported this feature as well, just not on Windows 10. That changes with the latest version of the app, which you can download from the Microsoft Store. It's just shy of a 78MB download.
That is not Alexa's only new trick on Windows 10. In addition to enabling wake-word capabilities on Windows 10 PCs, the latest version also introduces support for Pandora, "letting customers play their favorite stations through Alexa."
Still, it's the former that is of more interest. Sifting through the 2-star reviews on the Microsoft Store, one of the primary complaints was the lack of a wake-word function. That has been addressed. However, there is still room for improvement. The app needs to be running—it doesn't hide out of sight like Cortana, which is integrated into Windows 10. However, you can have Alexa automatically load when Windows boots.
Users who are not comfortable with Alexa having wake-word capabilities on their Windows 10 PCs as a matter of privacy (like accidentally summoning Alexa) can still disable the function and use the old push-to-talk method. Or not install the app at all.